Last Updated on 19/12/2023
Are hiking poles worth it? In this article, we share the pros and cons of using hiking poles vs not using hiking poles and ultimately, whether they are worth carrying just in case.
Are Hiking Poles Worth It?
Hiking poles provide a number of benefits for hikers of all ages and fitness levels. Whether you need them or not depends mainly on your age, physical fitness, and health.
If you are young, fit, and healthy, then you don’t necessarily need hiking poles. If, on the other hand, you feel like your knees aren’t what they used to be, or you could use the extra support, then they are 100% worth it.
Hiking poles help take weight off your feet, ankles, knees, and legs, as well as reduce backpack fatigue on your hips. Even if you only use them on the downhills, they always come in handy in other ways, like for shelter building, poking things, bushwhacking, and river crossings.
If you are concerned about adding extra weight and bulk to your backpack, then you can get some incredibly lightweight and compact options. Take a look at the BLACK DIAMOND Distance Carbon Z Poles, which weigh under 300 grams for the pair and folds down into three pieces for packability.
7 Advantages of Hiking Poles
There are lots of benefits to carrying hiking poles. The main advantages are to preserve your knees and support other parts of your body, but here are the top seven, including some you might not have thought of:
1. Provide Joint Support
Hiking poles can help to reduce the impact on your knees, especially during descents and long hikes. They also support your ankles and hips on rough terrain and with a heavy backpack on. If you have ever suffered any kind of joint pain in your ankle or knee during a hike, then you know how beneficial it is to have two extra supports to take the weight of the inflamed joint.
Trekking poles provide additional points of contact with the ground, improving your balance and stability, particularly on uneven terrain. Hiking poles act as probes to find solid ground and then allow you to move your weight onto them temporarily so that you can maneuver to the next point.
Whether you are crossing over slippery rocks or descending down steep and rocky terrain, just one hiking pole can provide the extra stability you need to stay upright. Two hiking poles are better than one if you have poor balance, but one is better than none.
Walking poles can help establish and maintain a consistent rhythm while hiking and, combined with the extra support to your legs, can really boost the number of miles you can walk in a day. Maintaining a steady rhythm can improve your stride length and reduce the chance of favoring one leg over the other.
The rhythm of hiking poles involves pacing them to the swing of each step so that when you put your foot down, you also place the opposite side pole down. As you do this, you simultaneously swing your other leg and opposite side pole for the next step, and so on. It does become very rhythmic and certainly helps on long-distance hikes.
Engaging your arms can help to distribute the effort more evenly across your body, potentially making your hikes feel less strenuous. Taking some of the burden off your leg muscles allows you to walk further for longer. Also, taking the weight off your knee and ankle joints should hopefully allow you to go injury and pain-free for longer.
As mentioned above, hiking poles can help to create a walking rhythm that can, over a long period, reduce fatigue on your legs and, in turn, improve your efficiency.
In some setups, hiking poles can also be used to set up lightweight shelters or tarps. If you are hiking with minimal gear, then having a second or third use for every item you carry is a huge benefit. Hiking poles are often height adjustable and very stable to use as a tarp pole. Even when I am camping in a tent, I always use my hiking pole to prop open the door like a porch canopy to cook or simply enjoy the morning view.
Hiking poles can also be used for many other tasks like knocking fruit out of trees, shewing away livestock, fighting off flying insects, or simply trailblazing overgrown paths.
6. Crossing Streams
Hiking poles can be particularly useful for maintaining balance when crossing streams or navigating slippery surfaces. Even shallow streams and rivers can surprise you with the power of the water, and once you commit to crossing a stream, the last thing you want to do is fall in and soak all your gear as well as yourself. Hiking poles act as your personal handrail and third leg so that you can stay on your feet even in a strong current.
7. Brush and Vegetation
Poles can be used to move aside vegetation or to probe uncertain terrain (e.g., testing the depth of mud or water). The most common times I use my hiking poles for beating back vegetation is on wet days on overgrown trails where your legs and footwear become drenched from the wet grass and vegetation. You do need to practice some caution when doing this, as you don’t want to damage an expensive hiking pole.
Another way I use hiking poles is when walking through prickly plants like brambles or thorn bushes. You can use your pole to hold back the spikes until you pass without ever getting one stuck in your hand.
4 Disadvantages of Hiking Poles
There are a few downsides to using hiking poles; however, in most cases, the pros outweigh the cons. Here are the top four disadvantages:
1. Additional Weight
Carrying and using hiking poles does add a bit of weight to your kit, which is a consideration for ultralight backpackers. Hiking poles are only worth it for ultra-light backpackers and hikers if they get a lot of use out of them or are prone to having bad knees, for example. If you are on a day hike, though, you won’t be burdened with lots of camping gear and supplies, so an extra couple hundred grams of weight is nothing, really.
2. Engagement of Hands
When you are using hiking poles, your hands are occupied, which makes doing things as simple as unzipping a jacket or reaching for your phone more of a challenge. When you wear the wristbands over your hands, it feels like a hassle to take them off and hold both poles in one hand. And when you do need both hands, you need to either lay your poles on the floor, hold them between your knees, or lean them against something.
3. They Can Go Unsused or Become a Hindrance on Steep Rocky Terrian
In very rocky or heavily forested terrain, trekking poles might sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help. Even when you aren’t using your poles in this type of terrain, they can still get caught on things when they are attached to the outside of your backpack. When the terrain is too extreme to use booth poles but I still feel like I need them, I often use one for balance and keep a hand free in case I stumble or need to grip onto something.
Quality hiking poles like those made by Leki or Black Diamond can be expensive, especially if you want the most lightweight versions (which I recommend). You can get a decent set of poles for around $80 to $100, or if you want the best anti-shock, cork handle, and carbon fiber poles, you may have to fork over more than $100 per pole!
When trying to decide if they are worth it or not, here are some things to consider beyond the pros and cons of hiking poles:
Type of Hiking
Consider the terrain and type of hiking you’ll be doing. For instance, thru-hikers and those doing long-distance hiking might find poles more beneficial than casual hikers. If you mainly hike on flat, well-maintained trails, then trekking poles probably aren’t worth it unless you have health issues. If you do a lot of mountain trails with steep and rocky terrain, then poles would be worth the investment.
Personal Fitness and Health
If you have joint issues or concerns about balance, poles might be particularly worthwhile. The most common times I have used my hiking poles are when I am suffering from knee, ankle, or foot pain. I remember just last year, I was on a 205-mile hike, and on day 3, I experienced the most painful plantar fasciitis of my life and would not have been able to carry on if it wasn’t for my hiking poles.
I think the older you get, the more benefits you reap from carrying hiking poles on a walk.
Packing and Storing
Think about how you will store and pack the poles when they are not in use. Does your backpack have hiking pole straps on the outside? Do they pack down small enough to fit inside your backpack?
Mostr of the time I prefer to keep hiking poles strapped to the oustside of my bag for easy access and also because they tend to have sharp tips that can damage a bag if you arent careful. Most hiking poles will come with tip covers, but I have always lost these within a few weeks. You might be better at looking after them than me, but they just seem to disappear.
Are Hiking Poles Really Worth It?
In summary, whether hiking poles are “worth it” might come down to a combination of personal preference and specific hiking conditions. Some hikers wouldn’t go without them, while others prefer to hike free-handed. Trying them out and evaluating how they impact your hiking experience might be the best way to determine their worth to you.
The times when hiking poles are worth their weight in gold are when you experience an injury or fatigue on a long hike. They can help get you home at times when walking unsupported might not be possible.
If someone were to ask me personally, “Are hiking poles worth it?” I would say that for me, yes, they are, but I appreciate the fact that they are also very lightweight 70% of the time; I don’t use them on a hike. In the comments below, let me know if you think poles are worth it on a hike.